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Mayor proposes halt to Post Point anaerobic digester project

'Unprecedented' project cost to top $1 billion

Mayor Seth Fleetwood watches a gravity belt separate liquids from sludge at the Post Point Water Treatment Plant on July 22. Fleetwood
Mayor Seth Fleetwood watches a gravity belt separate liquids from sludge at the Post Point Water Treatment Plant on July 22. Fleetwood (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Julia Lerner Staff Reporter

Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood has proposed to halt the upcoming Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant construction project following a sharp rise in expected project costs to as much as $1 billion.

The surprise announcement during Monday’s 9 a.m. Public Works and Natural Resources Committee meeting came after Fleetwood discussed the project with “relevant staff” late last week. 

City staff and council members initially reported anticipated costs to be around $220 million for anaerobic digestion, though those costs represented only a portion of projects necessary for the final sewage management system.

Today, Fleetwood estimated the costs of anaerobic digestion, including loan interest, to be close to $430 million, close to half of the anticipated $1 billion update for the overall sewage waste system.

“We have enormously improved clarity around project cost,” Fleetwood said. “We talked about what we know are going to be profound costs. The digestion effort before us, we know $220 million, perhaps more. That’s a projection. … With interests on the loan, we anticipate that being somewhere in the neighborhood of $430 million or so.”

Significant costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of sewage rate hikes. 

“Today, I’m proposing to stop current efforts on the Resource Recovery Project, aka the digesters, and refocus our efforts on projects that preserve our affordability to the extent and the degree that we are able,” he told City Council members. “This is going to require renewals and investments into existing incinerators at a cost that we believe we can handle with existing funding that the city already maintains.” 

Council member Lisa Anderson said something needs to be done with the current incinerators — which are on a path to failure — but that the cost of the proposed project is not feasible. 

“$1 billion is not affordable for this community,” Anderson said in a response to Fleetwood’s announcement. 

The pause in discussions, Fleetwood said, will allow the city to reconvene with city council members and notify contractors working on anaerobic digestion-related projects on behalf of the City of Bellingham. 

This story has been updated to include more details regarding the price breakdown of the project, particularly as it relates to anaerobic digestion. This story was updated on Aug. 29 at 6:15 p.m.

This story was updated Aug. 30 at 10:00 a.m. to clarify the mayor’s position on the anaerobic digester. 

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